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[Editorial] Nuclear Reprocessing for Peaceful Purposes

Posted July. 03, 2009 05:48,   


Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-hwan said yesterday, “There is a need to revise the nuclear agreement between (South) Korea and the United States over a short period of time.” He meant that Seoul will negotiate with Washington to allow the reprocessing of materials left after being used at nuclear power plants at a time when South Korea needs more nuclear power to cope with climate change and high oil prices.

South Korea abandoned nuclear reprocessing in 1974 under a nuclear agreement with the United States, but some have continued to press for the revision of the bilateral accord. Now seems like the right time to revise the agreement in a way that brings economic and industrial benefits under the basic principle of “peaceful use.” The revision process will start in 2012, two years before the agreement expires.

More than 10,000 tons of piled nuclear fuel has been produced in South Korea from 20 nuclear power plants. The country will run out of storage room for such materials by 2016. The plants use 4,000 tons of uranium per year and produce 700 tons of fuel. If reprocessed, 94.4 percent of the spent fuel can be recycled as an energy source, which is helpful both economically and environmentally.

To get “peaceful nuclear sovereignty,” Seoul needs recognition from the international community about nuclear reprocessing. Washington is said to be opposed to the revision. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, said in a paper submitted to Congress that the U.S. cannot allow South Korea and Taiwan to conduct nuclear reprocessing, a right which the U.S. has given to the European Union, India and Japan.

The 1992 inter-Korean declaration on denuclearization, however, was an inevitable measure to stop North Korea’s nuclear development. It is a declaration that has lost its effectiveness in the wake of Pyongyang’s second nuclear test and declaration as a nuclear country. Of course, South Korea is suspected of wanting to arm itself at the time when North Korea shows its nuclear ambition. So Seoul must persuade the international community that it has no plan to use nuclear power as a weapon, only for peaceful purposes.

South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest nuclear country and sixth largest recognized as managing nuclear safety. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, all member nations must guarantee the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Even Japan, which bans the manufacturing, retention and import of nuclear weapons under its “peace” constitution, has reprocessing facilities for nuclear waste. Japan was one of the villains of World War II, so it is unfair for South Korea to be continually banned from reprocessing nuclear fuel.